Ballarat California – Inyo County Ghost Town

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Ballarat, California

Located in Inyo County, Ballarat California is a ghost town which supposedly has a few residents living their dream within the town. Ballarat is located in the Panamint Mountain range just off the Trona Wilderness Road and sough of highway 190.

As early as 1849, the area served as a watering hole known as Post Office Springs. Prospectors and travelers alike would stop for water in the hot and dry Mojave Desert.

The town of Ballarat was founded in 1897 and named for Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. The town is named by an Australian immigrant George Riggins. Ballarat California was originally founded as a supply point for the mines Panamint Mountains and surrounding area. A blacksmith shop and store supported this efforts.

Within a year of the founding, the towns population stabilized at about 500 residents. Three hotels, seven saloons, a school, jail and morgue all served this outpost along with a post office and Wells Fargo station. The town site featured few natural resources and ore to be shipped into the remote location. The town buildings is constructed primarily of Adobe bricks.

The town was relatively lawless and was mostly filled with hard working miners looking for relaxation and an opportunity to blow off steam. The saloons and a population of prostitutes were supported by Ballarat.

The main mine, the Radcliffe, produced 15,000 tons or more of ore from 1898 to 1903. From 1927 to 1942 its tailings are reprocessed with cyanided. This process reported recovery value of one quarter of a million dollars in gold. The town began to fail following the closure of the Radcliff Mine in 1903. Despite supporting other mining towns like Harrisberg, as the gold played out, so did the fortunes of Ballarat, which closed the post office in 1917.

In 1941 the Ballarat Mining and Milling Corporation, a Nevada company, bought property in the Slate and Panamint ranges in San Bernardino and Inyo counties. A Los Angeles company intended to make exhaustive metallurgical tests, paving the way for a projected modern fifty-ton reduction mill south of town to perform custom work. An assay office and metallurgical laboratory were to be part of the complex, and once again Ballarat would see a resurgence of mining activity.

“Shorty” Harris, along with a few other prospectors continued to live in and around the town site for decades after the closure. The last of these die hard prospectors, “Seldom Seen Slim” died in 1968.


In 1968 and 1969, Charles Manson and his “family” moved into Barker Ranch. The town of Ballarat was Mansons last link to civilization and served as a supply source for his desert exploits. Not to caste the town with the murderer, the town also supplied the arresting officers who raided Barker Ranch and subsequently arrested Manson and his family.

“Shorty” Harris founder of Harrisburg, photographed in Ballarat, California
“Shorty” Harris founder of Harrisburg, photographed in Ballarat, California

Time has taken its tole on the builds of the adobe buildings. Wind and water are literally melting the builds back into the desert.

Today, Ballarat is the subject of a few odd television shows and again made headlines with the Ballarat Bandit. In 2003, George Robert Johnston camped around Ballarat and Death Valley. During this time, he committed burglaries before leading investigators on a chase across the desert.

Ballarat Personalities

Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim"

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” – A Ballarat Prospector

Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim" Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim" is the last of the known prospectors who lived in the town of Ballarat located…
The booking photo of the dimunutive Charles Milles Maddox. Inyo County October 1969.

Charles Milles Maddox

Charles Milles Maddox AKA Charlie Manson was a serial killer and most of the bad parts of the Old Testament sort of criminal. He briefly…
Frank "Shorty" Harris

Frank “Shorty” Harris

Frank Harris was a prospector, desert rat and perhaps the best known character in western mining history. He looked the part, often travelling the desert…
Pete Aguereberry

Pete Aguereberry – A Panamint Valley Miner

Pete Aguereberry was a prospector and miner who operated around Death Valley National Park, for whom Aguereberry is named. Born in the Basque Region of…


2 Replies to “Ballarat California – Inyo County Ghost Town”

  1. Pingback: Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim" - Destination4x4

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